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Meet Aixe Djelal, the ‘helmetographer’ behind BicycleHead

Posted by on June 8th, 2015 at 11:46 am

bicycleheadlead

All images by Aixe Djelal.

I’m not sure how I stumbled onto the work of Aixe Djelal (pronounced “eye-SHAY ja-LAL”), but now I find myself checking her latest images several times per week. I think it’s the randomness of them, or maybe it’s how she captures the ephemeral vignettes I often see myself but rarely capture.

bicyclehead-aixe-double

Djelal, the woman behind the BicycleHead website and Instagram account has been publishing (almost) daily images of Portland bike riders since May 2013. What sets her images apart is that she never even looks at her subject and all her shots are completely hands-free.

That’s because Djelal is a self-described “helmetographer” whose images are created with a camera mounted to her helmet that’s always on during her daily bike commute. The result is a running narrative of what it’s like to ride a bike in Portland in all it’s exhilirating, fun, stressful, annoying — and always interesting — glory.

I recently caught up with Djelal and asked her a few questions via email…

First, a bit of personal background. What part of town do you live in?

I live in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Southeast Portland.

How long have you lived in Portland?

I moved here in 1989 to go to Reed College, and I’ve lived here ever since (with the exception of graduate school in Arizona, which made me love cycling in Portland even more). The bicycle has been my primary form of transportation most of my life.

What do you do when not taking bike photos?

I’m a senior web project manager at OHSU and I also help my husband Matt Proctor run his electric guitar making business, M-tone Guitars. When I’m not riding my bike, you can usually find me walking all over Portland. I also like to take photos of local bands and BMX freestyle jams, and I daydream about extending my helmetography project all over the world.

What motived you to start BicycleHead?

In 2013, an irate driver tried to run me off the road in downtown Portland. I got a helmet camera to capture video of my rides in case another driver threw a baby fit about cyclists using the road. Once I saw a couple of my rides on video, I realized I was getting some cool scenes of Portland that would be a lot more interesting as still photography. The goal of my helmetography is to share Portland from a year-round bicycle commuter’s point of view. People all over the world seem to have an interest in Portland bicycle culture right now, and my helmetography helps paint a picture of what it’s like to ride here.

What is your camera set-up and how do you get your shots?

I use a Contour Roam2 camera mounted on a Bell Muni helmet. The camera has a 170 degree lens which gives the photos a slightly fish-eyed dreamy look. It is set to intervelometer mode: as soon as I turn it on it automatically shoots a still every three seconds. I discovered that I get better photos when I point the camera backwards, so I do that most of the time. My standard commute is six miles round trip, though sometimes I will ride different, longer routes to keep the helmetography fresh. I like riding slowly, so every night I sort through 500-900 photos and keep maybe a couple. It’s a somewhat compulsive, time consuming project, but I really love sharing Portland through my bicycle commuter lens.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve captured on camera?

Some of my most interesting shots are of infrequent snow (mostly because it’s unusual), tail lights in thick fog, a guy shoving a crossfit sled down the street like Sisyphus, a right to sleep demonstration that was an offshoot of Occupy Portland, and most recently, the protest ride in response to the uptick of motorists hitting cyclists in May 2015. After 26 years, I consider Portland a fairly normal place to live and ride, but when people from other places see my photos they are surprised how many cyclists there are on the road.At this point I plan to keep on going with my helmetography. I enjoy it, others seem to as well, and I am happy show what a joy it is to ride a bicycle!

Check out a few more of Djelal’s images below, or see them all at BicycleHead.com.

2014-09-12_sunny_tieandtruck

“The necktie and the truck” (9/12/14)

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wedgeofbluethroughunderpass

“Wedge of blue through underpass” (1/24/14)
cyclist-streaming-away-from-sunset

“Cyclists streaming away from sunset.” (4/22/15)
2014-07-22_cloudy_doggybag

“Doggy bag” (7/22/14)
2015-05-12_downboundtrain

“Downbound train” (5/12/15)
2015-04-20_shadows-gliding-down-salmon-street

“Shadows gliding down Salmon Street.” (4/20/15)

BicycleHead.com

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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jeg
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jeg

I love this. Can we start a program to give cams to daily commuters so we can have a log of issues going on in the city? It can be like cop lapel cams, but this will be used to provide ongoing evidence of problem spots. Someone needs to apply for a grant and start organizing… She has the potential to make this a city-wide effort that affects change. Push more!

Aixe Djelal
Guest

It is a super idea to have commuter cyclists capture trouble spots on camera and file a report. It would be a fairly significant project for one person to manage all the data and video that would come from commuters. It might spread the load more effectively to design a form to capture information (where was the issue, what category does it fall into, etc.) and receive supporting videos. The person receiving this information would need to be versed in designing a survey, analyzing data and drawing credible conclusions about the data in a way that would resonate with PBOT, ODOT and the City of Portland. I would be happy to contribute to the setup of such a project, but I am not the right person to lead it. Great idea, and I hope someone pursues it! It could really help Portland prioritize based not only on collisions, but on near misses.

Jeg
Guest
Jeg

All way above my head technically speaking! I know there are some smart tech workers out there who might be able to make this happen; I’ll talk to friends about it, but you seem much more poised to direct expertise in an effective way!

Aixe Djelal
Guest

If you are interested in pursuing it, might be worth reaching out to Rick Browning, the new project manager for the downtown protected lane project. He is exactly the right type of person to advise whether something like this is being done, and how best to approach it. There was an article about him last month here: http://bikeportland.org/2015/05/13/city-brings-project-manager-high-profile-downtown-multimodal-safety-project-143126

AllisonD
Guest
AllisonD

This is a great idea. I’d love to help out with this as well. I should have the time in a couple of months when I will be unemployed (finishing grad school)–and I have a lot of experience with analyzing videos of cyclists and traffic as well as making surveys, etc.

Clark in Vancouver
Guest
Clark in Vancouver

Do people in Portland do “assessment rides”?
In Vancouver, BC, the cycling advocacy organization Hub and the UBC Bike Co-op (and maybe others as well) both do what they call assessment rides. These are group rides to check out a route or location in regards to how it’s working for cycling. Usually stop every block or so, discuss and take notes and pictures. These get made into a collective document that is then sent to the City’s relevant departments and sometimes council members. The document has the problems and why they are important and then some suggestions on improvements.
Being group rides they’re fun as well as helpful. For busy city workers or councillors they have a quick way to find out about issues.

You can see some examples on Hub’s wiki here:
http://wiki.bikehub.ca/committees/index.php?title=HUB_Vancouver_Inspection_Ride_Reports
http://tinyurl.com/o4duvny

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

These are awesome, and particularly so since we apparently cover much of the same terrain (inner SE, Hawthorne, downtown, …). Just saw a friend make it in on page 5.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

I should start recording all the stop sign runners along the Going and Klickitat neighborhood greenways. I think the greenways provide a false sense of security. Cars just don’t seem to want to stop.

jeg
Guest
jeg

Cameras are getting cheaper by the day, so is storage. Why can’t we set up some cheap cams that record offenses so we can present them to the city as proof? I think this would be an excellent idea.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

on Going and Klickitat themselves? or stop signs on cross-streets?

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Sorry, I meant cross streets.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

There are a few routes in Portland that have grand vistas or overlooks, but it’s the compilation of common scenes like these – the long late afternoon shadows, the concrete no-man’s land beneath the freeways and such – that make bicycling the infinitely interesting experience that it is.

I never stop to take pictures, though. Beautifully captured, Aixe.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Nice write-up on a cool project! People talk about using cameras to document lawbreakers, but I’ve recently started using a Hero4 to document infrastructure and traffic situations. I’ve been able to work with planners to change a few different intersections by illustrating the natural behavior of drivers and bicyclists, and I’ve done some markup on still images showing alternatives that have proven worthy of adoption (and also got some potholes and seams filled and fresh paint applied in the process).

No where NEAR as fun a use as this, though, for sure! 🙂

Ted Buehler
Guest

Pete — you wrote
” I’ve been able to work with planners to change a few different intersections by illustrating the natural behavior of drivers and bicyclists, ”

Very cool — care to share any examples of your successes? Either locations, or the images themselves?

Thanks much for doing this, it makes life so much easier for all of us…

Ted Buehler

Pete
Guest
Pete

Will try to remember when I’m back on non-work computer, though they’re in Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose, CA, not Portland, sorry. Most recent was catching Sunnyvale just before they painted Homestead Rd westbound where they’d taken out the slip lane at Hollenbeck, probably because it’s near a school and kids may have been getting hit. Anyway, I saw the template had planned the “bike guy” way over to the right, and the travel lane widened at the intersection but the bike lane veered Far To Right, directing cyclists to stand in front of right-turning cars even though there was plenty of space to keep the car travel lane a consistent width and flare the bike lane instead. Long story short, this allows cyclists to stand to the right of cars going straight – at a consistent relative distance to the driver’s peripheral view as they’ve already been traveling in – and uncorks right-turning cars on red. A simple video and some shots of traffic there on red and green cycles, including (select – i.e. experienced) cyclists riding straight through, and the same of another intersection where this already works (coincidentally the same one in the other direction!) and we had a ‘conversation starter.’ Because I caught them before they laid paint, and I convinced them that a “consistent width to the bike lane” (their description of their goal there) buys nobody safety, they were able to change it and I owe them a thank-you note come to think of it.

When Google satellites catch up with the other changes I’ll have some before and after shots I should probably put up a site for. Just a spare-time hobby though…

Pete
Guest
Pete

“Bike Person”, sorry… 😉

Pete
Guest
Pete

Also got the cameras to use for a night-lighting course I’m working on, though Daylight Savings Time caught up with me before I could get things off the ground.

This clip is from Fremont in Sunnyvale illustrating what I find to be a bizarre bike lane treatment that confuses both drivers and cyclists. If you forward to 1:12, though, you see a Right-Turn-Only Lane that I convinced them to put in (Bobwhite), instead of the typical Far-To-Right bike lane placement they had planned for us (protected by painted hash marks like in the other spot, which you can make out if you look closely). On the other side of the intersection I lost the argument to keep this bike lane straight, so instead they swing us FTR and temporarily remove us from line-of-sight of the (red) car coming out of the next intersection (Floyd). The engineer argued that cars turning right from Bobwhite might hit bicyclists if they were over so close to the travel lane, she didn’t agree that a simple “No Right Turn On Red” would solve that problem fast. (I’ve ridden through this intersection thousands of times and not once seen a car brave pulling out on that red into 45+ MPH traffic when Fremont has the green).

Also note the driveway at 0:49 by the “Right Lane Ends” sign. I’ve been right-hooked (but not hit) there three times, hence my lane positioning (where I’ve actually been passed on the right before by a driver in the bike lane, egregiously).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4D4Y50th_lc

This, by the way, is for a study of how not to direct bicyclists along a roadway that undulates in width.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Another small victory – I shot video of a faded bike lane between Apple and Kaiser Permanente on Homestead eastbound in Santa Clara. The lane widened at that block and there were potholes galore. I sent a link to the video as well as Google Earth showing the lane widening to our city engineer, and I brought it up to him at our BPAC meeting. I pointed out that the existing bike lane could have (preferably hashed) buffers added to it during the repainting to keep the travel lane a consistent width and (in theory) help slow drivers down (without calling it a “road diet”). Two weeks later I noticed the potholes filled in. The following week I noticed they repainted the lines. Yesterday… I see a (partially hashed) buffer there! With this and the completion of a few other recent projects, I’m sending a letter of commendation to our Public Works Director and Mayor and City Council asking if there’s a way for this person to be recognized.

Not a single “study” occurred that I know of… 🙂

caesar
Guest
caesar

I need a helmet cam.

Literally one hour ago I turned left rom Naito northbound onto NW Davis, headed west towards the hills. The blocks are very short and the traffic lights aren’t synchronized, so no matter how fast one travels one will need to stop at the next corner’s light. A pickup truck raced up behind me (I was taking the lane due to parked cars) and honked aggressively while I came to a stop at NW 5th Ave, waiting for green signal. At first I thought he couldn’t be honking at me, because…the light was red – where was I supposed to go?. But the guy (40-ish, caucasian, goatee, baseball cap) stuck his head out the window and began yelling at the top of his lungs for me to get the hell off the street because I don’t pay road taxes. The lights still being red and with nowhere to go I answered that I had just as much of a right to use the streets,blah, blah, blah, etc, etc, etc. His response was to gun the engine and make sharp little advances towards me, stopping about three feet from my rear tire. I moved to the curb and watched him hang a left on a red light at NW 5th and disappear. I didn’t manage to get his plate numbers because, frankly, I was just stunned and scared, but he was driving a white pickup truck with some kind of “Portland Construction” something or other company logo on it.

This has never happened to me before, in years of riding, in Texas, California, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Hard to argue with stupidity, yes? I get a kick out of people who do things like that in marked company vehicles. I was literally nudged by a driver in a courtesy shuttle for a local car dealership (for being in the middle of the lane I needed to take the left in), and I managed to snap a quick shot of his front license plate resting against my rear tire. I found the GM’s email address (it’s no longer there) on the web site, and come to find out he’s an avid cyclist who coaches a local kid’s mountain bike club. Not sure what happened after that, but I suspect some action was taken.

Alas, other select occasions with one or two cameras mounted I had wished they were filming, or the batteries hadn’t died, or the remote control’s battery hadn’t died… or just plain wished we could all get along! 🙂

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Courtesy” shuttle, indeed.

Smith
Guest
Smith

Portland may be bicycle friendly in general, but it’s surrounded by rednecks who think of us as liberal hippies.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

So many rednecks.

My friend has a “white pickup” theory. Pretty much every time he’s been harassed it’s been by someone driving a white pickup.

chasingbackon
Guest
chasingbackon

A few months ago i was nearly run over by a driver who failed to yield while i was IN THE CROSSWALK at 75th and Powell. The driver then rolled down his window and yelled at me”how the hell am I supposed to see you”? Not really sure, except look. The other lane in the same direction, figured it out.

While it’s a sad state of affairs that the platinum portland has come to this, I’ve started riding with a gopro.

Jeg
Guest
Jeg

We should have a common nexus to post problem intersections with go pro footage!

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Did you tell him he could see you if he didn’t have his head in his orifice?

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

Excellent photo project, Aixe. Keep it up!

I agree that a repository for still & videos take by Portland bike commuters could become a resource with lots of potential. Not sure how it could be set up, though. Individual accounts pointing to Google cloud storage, all interlinked by a main page of some sort?

Jir
Guest
Jir

I saw an offering of beautiful art, where others saw an opportunity for catching the bad guys. It just makes me sad that fear and anger (although justified) seems to have marred what is beautiful.

Pete
Guest
Pete

…and girls! 😉

Eric
Guest
Eric

Aixe, I have sympathy for you whenever you have to give your name to someone (restaurant hostess, phone support persons, etc) . I suspect you probably have a pseudonym you use frequently. Keep up the good work.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

If only there were some way for BicycleHead to counteract CarHead…

invisiblebikes
Guest
invisiblebikes

Every time I read “carhead” and now Bicyclehead I think of They Might Be Giants “Particalman”
“Triangle man hates Person man, they have a fight, triangle wins, Triangle man…”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNT8SMlqLJA

The eternal oppression of Person (bicycle) man!

Loran
Guest
Loran

Thanks so much for posting this, Jonathan! Love the website & pictures!

Maria
Guest
Maria

I’d love to capture all the stuff I see riding on N Williams. I’m definitely going to look into getting a helmet cam.